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Release date:
April 4, 2001
Contact: Elaine Justice, Assistant Director, 404-727-0643, or

Great Teachers Lecture Focuses On How Churches Deal With Crises

When news reports break into TV programming to relate the latest crisis, viewers seldom see what resources the community uses to cope with the situation. Nancy Eiesland and Elizabeth Bounds, two faculty members at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, have looked behind the scenes at times of stress and will present the results of their research, "When Crisis Strikes Your Community: How Religious Groups Respond," as the next offering in the Great Teachers Lecture Series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Miller-Ward Alumni House, 815 Houston Mill Road. Free parking is available.

Studying three areas in metro Atlanta—Stone Mountain, Lithia Springs and Doraville—Eiesland and Bounds examined the organizational, cultural and practical resources that congregations provide for their members and surrounding communities in times of crisis.

Their research also explores how individuals make sense of crises which disrupt their settled sense of themselves and the world. "We examined the implicit and explicit theologies that are present in these congregations, which often are found in pastoral consultation and in sermons," says Eiesland.

Funded by a four-year grant from the Lilly Endowment, the research project aims to help community leaders and religious people understand how they can deal more effectively with the crises that inevitably come. Fortunately, the study is pointing to some concrete steps that really help, says Eiesland.

For example, congregations need to learn how to tell stories about crises that elicit positive attitudes. "Narratives that create a sense of despair and randomness tend to make it hard for people to respond," says Eiesland. Congregations also need to become familiar with the organizational life of their communities so that they can guide people in getting practical help during tough times. And they need to reach out, keeping other kinds of congregations on their radar, so that they can help each other.

Eiesland, a sociologist, specializes in suburbanization and religious change in the United States, gender and religion, global trends in religion, and the sociology and theology behind issues of illness and disability. She is the author of "The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability" and "A Particular Place: Urban Restructuring and Religious Ecology in a Southern Exurb."

Bounds is a Christian ethicist who has written on issues of church and civil society, feminist and liberation ethics, and the public voice of religion. She is the author of "Coming Together/Coming Apart: Religion, Community and Modernity" and coeditor of "Welfare Policy: Feminist Critiques." She has written and lectured on issues ranging from politics to public morality.

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